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Globe & Mail Article

Rodeo Drive

Making The Scenes in Between nearly drove Blue Rodeo band members around the bend


Saturday, February 26, 2000

Over the past 13 years, Blue Rodeo has made eight records, toured Canada countless times, won an armful of Juno Awards and done all the things one might expect from a Canadian musical institution. All except one: They've never done a TV special. Oh, they've done videos. They've appeared on other people's shows. But unlike Anne Murray, Rita MacNeil, George Fox and a few other Can-con stars beloved of the CBC variety department, Blue Rodeo has never had an hour to call their own.

Until now. For their first special, The Scenes In Between (CBC, Sunday at 9 p.m.), the band allowed a camera crew to track them as they recorded their latest album, The Days in Between, at a New Orleans studio owned by producer Daniel Lanois. The show also features concert footage shot at an intimate concert at Toronto's Phoenix nightclub.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Unlike the typical CBC variety show, the documentary approach would give viewers a window on the creative process. But after seeing the pained grins, the behind-the-scenes spats and awkward silences that were captured on film, it's clear that the good idea didn't work so well in practice. The Scenes in Between features some fine concert footage and some fascinating backstage moments, but after watching it, it's easy to think that another 15 years need to pass -- at least -- before Blue Rodeo ever takes another trip to the small screen.

And if watching the show doesn't convince you of that, try asking Jim Cuddy. "It was miserable. It was not a good experience," says the usually agreeable frontman, who formed Blue Rodeo in the mid-1980s with high school pal Greg Keelor. "I was a major proponent for making it happen and I was probably one of those who reacted worse."

The band had dabbled with doing a television special before, even discussing the possibility of a special in the early 1990s with CBC executives, but they never felt the variety format worked for them. They agreed to the documentary after being approached by Mike Downie, brother of Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie. Downie's idea was that the crew would follow the development of several songs, from first draft to final recorded version.

The show manages to do that, at least with the first single, Somebody Waits. But it's not all smiles. As the scene begins, the camera is sneaking up on Cuddy as he picks out an early version of the song on the piano. The moment he spots them, he stops playing and, with a tight grin, buries his head in his hands.

"It was really surprising the paralysis that the camera caused," says Cuddy. "When you put a camera on the creative process, you add an element of self-consciousness, which is what groups work so hard to get rid of."

By the end of the process, which also captured a spat between Cuddy and Keelor, the band and the crew were at loggerheads.

"What we had down there was a species war," says Cuddy. "No way that people creating something could get along with people that were filming them. It was vicious. People were saying horrible things."

In the end, however, all the ill feelings were forgotten when the band saw the final result of the documentary and concert shoots.

"In the end, we were very happy with the results," says Cuddy. "I'm comfortable with it because I appreciate what it shows. I mean, I wish it didn't show the fight and me being all petulant and walking away and all that, but that's part of recording."

Chris Dafoe is the Globe and Mail's Western arts correspondent.

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